Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Brush fire on Mount Tom delays southbound I-91 traffic

Traffic is slowed in the southbound lane of I-91 near exit 18 in Northampton Sunday due to a brush fire in Holyoke. Photo by JERREY ROBERTS

Story by SCOTT MERZBACH Northampton Gazette

HOLYOKE — A brush fire near the rest area on Interstate 91 caused extensive delays for southbound vehicles throughout Sunday afternoon.

Trooper Felipe Martinez at the Northampton State Police barracks said traffic was backed up about 2 miles at 4:30 p.m. as a result of smoke from the brush fire, which started late Sunday morning. The backup grew to about 5 miles by 6 p.m., with traffic slowed down beginning at Exit 18 in Northampton.

Holyoke Fire Department Lt. Thomas Paquin said the brush fire started on part of the Mount Tom Reservation, with the state Division of Fire Services taking the lead and receiving assistance from many Holyoke and Northampton firefighters.

Other towns also did their part.

“Several surrounding communities shuttled in water with their tanker trucks because there are no fire hydrants there,” Paquin said.

The travel lane of Interstate 91 south was closed to allow fire trucks and other apparatus to set up, Paquin said, with just the passing lane open during the duration of the event.

About 50 firefighters remained on the scene into the early evening trying to extinguish the blaze and put out hot spots. It was one of a number of brush fires that flared up on a sunny, dry day with wind.

Paquin said the fire was challenging because of the hilly terrain and the thick underbrush. He said Holyoke firefighters were shuttled back and forth every couple of hours from the scene of the brush fire to coverage in the city.

The cause isn’t yet known, but since it started near the highway it could have been a cigarette butt discarded from a window, Paquin said. The fire spread quickly, consuming roughly 15 acres of brush, because so much downed brush and trees has accumulated over the last few years, he said.

The Northampton Fire Department was providing mutual aid and both Goshen and Chesterfield departments were contacted for fire engine tankers, according to Fireground 360, which puts information online for the first-responder community.

The Pioneer Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross had two teams of responders to assist firefighters, said Evelyn Sullivan, a disaster responder.

One team had hydration and snacks for the firefighters, while the second provided a mobile kitchen offering light food, Sullivan said.

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